Jan 9, 2017 | By Tess

Scientists from Oxford University in the UK have used 3D modeling and printing technologies to create what are being heralded as the first interactive 3D models of human joints. The interactive models, which are based on 3D scans of over 200 individual bone specimens, demonstrate the history of common joint-related and bone-related complaints and show how they are expected to change and evolve in the future.

In total, 224 bone specimens were 3D scanned for the project, a collection which ranged from the Devonian period to now (a period of over 350 million years), and includes bones from amphibious reptiles, dinosaurs, shrews, tupaiae, lemurs, primates, A. Afarensis, H. Erectus, and H. Neaderthalis. With the CT scans, the Oxford researchers were able to study and mathematically compare ancient joint samples with more modern ones, effectively creating “3D morphs.” The hope is that these comparisons will help to better understand where relatively common medical complaints, specifically orthopaedic ones, stem from and how they might change in the future.

The study was led by Dr. Paul Monk from the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences. He explains the significance of the project in the following way: “Throughout our lineage we have been adapting the shape of our joints, which leads to a range of new challenges for orthopaedic surgeons. Recently there has been an increase in common problems such as anterior knee pain, and shoulder pain when reaching overhead, which led us to look at how joints originally came to look and function the way they do.”

From the CT scans and splices of various shoulder, hip, and knee samples, the research team was able to study and hypothesize what future skeletal shapes could be, as well as how the human skeleton could continue to evolve. Excitingly, the team has 3D printed models of what these future skeletons could look like. Aside from giving a glimpse into the future, the 3D models have also made it possible to study and identify potential causes of modern joint-related complaints, and will help scientists to “anticipate future problems that are likely to begin to appear based on lifestyle and genetic changes.”

Ultimately, the research and 3D models will help to inform orthopaedic surgery plans in the future, as current treatments and joint implants will likely not be suitable for the evolving human skeleton. This reality, as Dr. Monk explains, means that even common orthopaedic surgeries will have to be adapted.

“Current trends reveal that the modern shapes of joint replacements won’t work in the future, meaning that we will need to re-think our approach for many common surgeries,” commented Dr. Monk. “We also wanted to see what we’re all going to look like in the future, and to answer questions such as ‘are we evolving to be taller and faster or weaker’, and ‘might we be evolving to need hip replacements earlier in the future?’”

The future skeleton 3D model, which is called the Trillennium Man Project, can be viewed online here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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